UAE signs agreement to ensure equality for all religious groups

The UAE’s leaders are keen on implementing the Marrakesh Declaration not only through religious and legal measures but also by integrating it within the education system.

Senior officials from 52 Muslim nations are to meet in Abu Dhabi later this year in a bid by Muslim states to get their own houses in order, demonstrate to the non-Muslim world the moderates’ condemnation of groups such as ISIL and to show that peaceful co-existence can be achieved.

The Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities was established during the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies’ latest session earlier this year.

And now the UAE’s leaders are keen on implementing it not only through religious and legal measures but also by integrating it within the education system. “The next step is for them to meet in Abu Dhabi for some serious consideration. Some declarations get out and they don’t even get endorsed, so we are trying to put the wheels on them,” said the forum’s executive director Zeshan Zafar.

“We will be bringing together experts on religious freedom, legal experts, not just ministries of religion, also ministries of justice, constitutional law experts because they are the ones who will be able to translate it back, also education.”

Already, the Marrakesh Declaration has been signed by muftis and religious leaders and activists from all over the Muslim world.

The goal of the forthcoming Abu Dhabi meeting is to include religious leaders from other faiths and religious minorities that live in the Muslim world, such as Yazidis and Ahmadiyyas.

“We will show them that we are doing this for your people, so how can you help us?” Mr Zafar said. “Muslim society should not be doing this alone, so we should be standing, giving them hope we can do something to clean up our mess. What can you do to help with this?”

There will also be participation from western communities and experts who signed the declaration as witnesses.

Support by international players, such as the Italian parliament and the US ambassador for religious freedom, David Saperstein, has been relayed on Twitter and social media. The US president Barack Obama also hailed the declaration when it was ­announced last February as he visited a mosque in Baltimore.

Mr Saperstein and a number of religious leaders, scholars and the forum’s members also met in Washington on April 20 to find ways to mobilise the declaration within society.

“We broke into five workshops and discussed how we could change it from text into reality ... we are trying to create a small working group in America, they have the ability to implement ideas very quickly.”

Last week there was also an “inter-religious high concentration meeting” in Tokyo in conjunction with the G7 Summit to discuss declaration, and a four-step plan to put it into action was set.

The fourth step focuses on “social mobilisation, getting everyone all their rights, in terms of job opportunities, gender equality, free access to education, rights to property and location, moving around the world,” explained Mr Zafar.

The declaration will be discussed again at the coming G7 Summit where the seven world leaders, “will be expected to recognise it”, Mr Zafar said.

“The existence of such declarations is important,” said Dr Hessa Lootah, a politics professor at UAE University.

It is important, she said, to have such regulations in text “especially since the essence of Islam is against discrimination of the other”.

However, the challenge remains on how effectively it will be implemented.

“If not implemented well, it does not mean anything,” said Dr Lootah.

“In Arab countries we all suffer from categorising this as Sunni and this as Shiite, so we should understand that Islam is the ­religion of all humans ... we do not decide who is accepted by Allah and who is not.”

hdajani@thenational.ae

Published: May 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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